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The Five Keys that unlock the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. By Bruce C. E. Fleming

Who hasn’t found 1 Corinthians 11 to be confusing and difficult to understand? What do these words mean as we read down through the passage?

Covering for men, for women?

Shaving off a woman’s hair?

Being the glory of God?

Because of the angels?

Long hair is a shame?

We can make sense of these things if we use the Five Keys to unlock the meaning of this passage. (We go into the Five Keys in detail on The Eden Podcast on Season Four and again on season Nine. But here is a summary for you.)

There are five keys to unlock the meaning of this passage:

1. The word of praise

2. The three-fold focus

3. The contentious party 

4. The already-delivered traditions

5. Today’s confused translators

Key #1. Praise

What were the Corinthians doing that earned them the praise of Paul? He praised them for practicing his teaching on not covering one’s head in church.

There is a folksy rule of interpretation that is helpful here. It is, “Whenever you see the word therefore in a passage, check to see what it is there for.”

In this passage, a “therefore” occurs at the beginning of verse 10:

10 therefore, a woman ought to have authority …

Most of the Corinthians had agreed with Paul and most were doing what he had taught them to do. Therefore he praised them for doing so. Women had authority to follow what he had taught them and they were doing so. Therefore he praised them and the church.

Key #2. Focus

Paul had three target audiences in mind when he wrote this passage.

  1. Former Jewish believers.
  2. All believers.
  3. Former Pagan believers.

He uses words and concepts appropriate to each group as he writes out his advice.

To Jewish-background believers in verses 3-9.

To all believers in verses 10-12.

To pagan-background believers in verses 13-15.

Key #3. Contention

Some had disagreed with Paul and were arguing against following Paul’s practice. By the time he finishes verses 3-15 Paul had argued his case and was done with the arguments of others. It was time for them to stop contending for their view that women should be treated differently in Christian practices. He didn’t practice what they wanted and none of the other churches did either.

Key #4. Traditions

Baby ducks imprint on the actions of their mothers. They start out following her and they do what she does in the way she does things. Paul had brought the Good News to Corinth. Those who heard his message gave their hearts to Christ. Who did they follow? They learned from Paul how to act as believers in Christ. They held church the way he held church. They practiced the traditions he taught them and modeled for them. In verse 2 he praised them for remembering him at all times and for keeping the traditions he taught them.

Key #5. Translations

When we learned an African language and began to teach the Bible we were warned not to say a certain word in the wrong way. If we pronounced ngolu one way it meant “grace” as in the grace of God. If we pronounced ngolu using different tones the word meant “pig.” Earlier missionaries had mispronounced the word and they confused their listeners by passionately preaching about the “pig” of God! Sadly, translators have missed the previous four keys. The translations they have produced for modern readers make it look like Paul was taking the side of the contentious ones at Corinth. The result has been confusion and even harm as people have tried to practice the contentious regulations Paul was actually dismissing in this passage!

We can make sense of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 if we use the Five Keys to unlock the meaning of this passage. We go into more detail on the Five Keys on Seasons 4 and 9 of The Eden Podcast.

We can make sense of the other key passages on women and men in the Bible. The place to start is with The Book of Eden, Genesis 2-3 by me, Bruce C. E. Fleming and with Study Guides by Joanne Hagemeyer. There is also a course to go deeper that uses videos, quizzes and more! It is presented by Jessica Nagy and can be found at

Bruce C. E. Fleming is Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Tru316 Foundation ( He can be reached at

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